The Israeli-Palestinian ConflictThe Only Road to Peace Bill TaylorWith all of my heart, I firmly believe:1. If you’re a supporter of Israel and have Israel’s best interests at heart, you must also be a supporter of the Palestinians and have their best interests at heart.2. If you’re a supporter of the Palestinians and have the Palestinians’ best interests at heart, you must also be a supporter of the Israelis and have the best interests of the Israelis at heart.3. That is, what is best for Israelis includes what is best for the Palestinians, and vice versa. Why?4. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians say that they will never ever ever ever give in to violence from the other side. And I have no doubt that both sides are telling the truth. The Jews are not going to cut their losses and run. They’re there to stay. And the same is true of the Palestinians. Those Israelis and Palestinians who think that violence will drive the other side out are blinded by ideology and out of touch with reality.5. Nonetheless, both sides are relying almost exclusively on violence in one form or another in their dealings with each other (military incursions, homemade rockets, targeted assassinations, and suicide bombings among them). This can only be explained in a few possible ways:a. Each side thinks it can end the other side’s violence by responding with violence of its own, b. Each side thinks it can get the other side to leave Israel/Palestine in response to its violence, and/orc. Both sides believe that through violence they can improve their negotiating position and therefore be able to impose a peace agreement that resolves the outstanding issues in a way that favors its side at the expense of the other side.6. I firmly believe that all three of these possible reasons for using violence are invalid given the realities of the situation, and that if the leaders on each side were to reflect on their own attitudes and commitments, they would see this.a. Certainly the Israelis are not going to allow the Palestinians to perpetrate violence against them without responding; nor will the Palestinians. So violence will not end the violence, but will only perpetuate it.b. As I indicated above, the Israelis and the Palestinians have both made it clear that they will never leave the land in response to violence from the other side, and I believe them.c. Each side has certain bottom lines with regard to peace and each side has said there will be no peace agreement unless those bottom lines are met. Thus, neither side will sign a peace agreement under duress, nor should they. Such a “peace” agreement would leave a bitterness that could only result in later violence (such as happened with the Versailles Peace Treaty that was imposed on Germany at the end of World War I and led to World War II). The only peace agreement that will work is one in which both sides see that their basic needs have been met and that they have been dealt with fairly by the other side.7. Therefore, the conflict will never be resolved as long as each side persists in trying to resolve the conflict through violence. All that will result is more injuries and deaths.8. As long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues, the dream of Zionism – a homeland governed by Jews that can serve as a safe haven for Jews from around the world in case there is another pogrom or holocaust – will remain only partially fulfilled. Israel is a place to which Jews have a right to return, but at this point it is not a safe place due to the conflict. (I should note that there are Israelis [and Palestinians] who fully expect that their grandchildren and great grandchildren will be living with the same situation that they themselves are living with today, so I suppose that’s an alternative to what I’m talking about here.)9. Therefore, anyone who truly loves the Israelis and/or the Palestinians will feel duty bound to criticize all acts of violence committed by either side since those acts will not contribute to a solution to the conflict but will instead simply result in more injuries and deaths. Nor will they have any patience for either side’s efforts to justify its acts of violence as simply a response to the violence committed by the other side. There is no strategic, tactical, or moral justification for acts of violence since violence will not solve the conflict. Therefore, the only justification can be vengeance, which is not a worthy motive for two great peoples.10. If violence won’t end the conflict, what will?a. It has become a mantra in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that there can’t be any negotiations toward a peace agreement until there’s an end to the violence.b. But this gives a veto over peace negotiations to the minority in each society (around 18-19 percent of the Israelis and Palestinians according to research findings) who do not want a peace agreement because it would mean that the other side would get land that these rejectionists feel should be theirs alone. Any act of violence on their part will be met with a violent response and thus negotiations will never occur. In this way they can use violence to achieve their goal of preventing a peace agreement.c. Therefore, the mantra must be turned on its head to say that the only way to end the violence is for the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a peace agreement – one that the 80 percent of the people in both societies who support a two-state solution find so compelling that they’ll work to end the violence in their own societies because they’ll see the violence as an obstacle to the implementation of this peace agreement.11. Given the political realities in Israel and the PNA, such a peace agreement can only be reached through secret negotiations out of the public eye as occurred in Oslo.12. In addition, the achievement of such an agreement will only occur if the two sides take a radically different approach to negotiations. a. Up to this point, the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have been based on the model of labor-management negotiations – both sides start out with maximal demands and then give away as little as possible, with the assumption that the more powerful side will get more of what it wants and the weaker side will get less. This approach to negotiations is an example of a zero-sum game: any gain by one side is at the expense of the other side. Such an approach to peace negotiations is inappropriate because in labor-management negotiations there will always be future negotiations and the weaker side this year may be the stronger side in the future and thus have a chance to make up for losses suffered in this contract. In contrast, a peace agreement doesn’t get renegotiated every few years to adjust inequities; it’s an agreement for all time. For this reason, such an approach to negotiations will never produce peace because neither side will settle for an agreement that does not meet its basic needs and if it feels that the other side has not dealt with it fairly.b. Since only a peace agreement, and not violence, will end the conflict, and since peace cannot be secured through a traditional approach to negotiations, therefore a new way of approaching negotiations needs to evolve, one that is based on a new way of looking at national self-interest – whether Israeli or Palestinian,1) one in which the Israelis realize that it is in their own self-interest to negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians in which the Palestinians see that their basic needs have been met and that they have been dealt with fairly by the Israelis – for this is the only kind of agreement that the Palestinians will commit to, and 2) one in which the Palestinians realize that it is in their own self-interest to negotiate an agreement with the Israelis in which the Israelis see that their basic needs have been met and that they have been dealt fairly with by the Palestinians – for this is the only kind of agreement that the Israelis will commit to.13. From this point of view, all of the accusations that go back and forth about whether this side or that side really wants peace, negotiates in good faith or not, lives up to its agreements or not, whether the other side has earned the right to be a negotiating partner – all of these are moot points. The fact is that the only way to peace is through negotiations and it’s in the self-interest of each side to be so cooperative and accommodating that the negotiations will work because the two parties want them to – because this is the only way that their interests will be realized. One of the terms used to describe this approach to negotiations is mutual-gains bargaining.14. This makes it clear why past behavior in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and past behavior during the implementation stage of past agreements, is irrelevant in the case of mutual-gains bargaining. Those past negotiations were conducted under traditional zero-sum bargaining, so neither side felt good about what it had conceded/gained in the negotiations and so there was little incentive to negotiate in good faith or to live up to the agreements that resulted. In contrast, in mutual-gains bargaining, each side sees that it’s in its own self interest to reach an agreement that pleases the other side, and when both sides are pleased they have every reason to implement what they’ve agreed to.15. Let me give an example of what I mean. One of the issues that’s impossible to resolve under the traditional, zero-sum approach to negotiations is the final status of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have said that they will never sign a peace agreement unless it gives their side sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. As long as both sides stick to this position, no agreement is possible. As long as each side thinks it can, through violence, force the other side to concede sovereignty to them, no agreement is possible and the violence will continue on forever. But if both sides see that it’s in their own self-interest to meet each other’s needs, then surely a creative solution can be arrived at in which both side’s needs are met.Which brings me back to what I said in the beginning:16. If you’re a supporter of Israel and have Israel’s best interests at heart, you must also be a supporter of the Palestinians and have their best interests at heart, and17. If you’re a supporter of the Palestinians and have the Palestinians’ best interests at heart, you must also be a supporter of the Israelis and have the best interests of the Israelis at heart.18. That is, what is best for Israelis includes what is best for the Palestinians, and vice versa.19. Since violence has not and will not bring peace, anyone who truly loves the Israelis and/or the Palestinians will feel duty bound to criticize all acts of violence committed by either side since those acts will not contribute to a solution to the conflict but will instead simply result in more injuries and deaths. Nor will they have any patience for either side’s efforts to justify its acts of violence as simply a response to the violence committed by the other side. There is no strategic, tactical, or moral justification for acts of violence since violence will not solve the conflict. Therefore, the only justification can be vengeance, which is not a worthy motive for two great peoples.20. Let me conclude by responding to one obvious objection to what I’ve outlined here, namely a. the accusation by Israelis that the Palestinian leadership does not want peace and therefore would not be willing to negotiate in good faith, andb. the accusation by Palestinians that the Israeli leadership does not want peace and therefore would not be willing to negotiate in good faith, andc. therefore my road to peace is nothing more than pie-in-the-sky idealism.It’s certainly possible that one or both of these accusations may be true. But unless someone can demonstrate a) that what I’ve outlined is not a viable road to peace, and/or b) that there is another (more) viable road to peace, c) then it’s incumbent upon those who love and support the Israelis and/or the Palestinians to do what they can to convince those leaders, or others who might replace them, that what I’ve laid out here, if it is in fact the only road to peace, is not hopeless idealism but rather hard nosed realism.
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